Steampunk Fidget Spinner

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I’m one of those people who hates to throw stuff away. Or to paraphrase Barbara Mandrell, “I was a recycler before recycling was cool”. When I lived in Texas I volunteered at a non-profit recycling center and loved thinking of ways to repurpose some of the stuff that came in. Even when I don’t have a specific project in mind, I find that some things are just too cool to get rid of. Maybe I’m a bit of a hoarder but not bad enough that they will put me on reality TV. In any case, this project brings together some disparate parts (a ball bearing, a pipe valve handle, and a reject piece of wood) to make something that I think is both decorative and fun.

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Step 1: Parts

The ball bearing that I used came from a disassembled hard disk drive. There are usually two bearing in each old drive - one for the disk spindle and one for the read/write head assembly. Usually the one from the disk spindle has a center hole that is almost a perfect fit for a #10 screw.

The old valve handle was part of a group I bought that came from an old ship that was being parted out. Mine are solid aluminum, 5 inches in diameter, and have a square hole in the middle. There’s a wide variety of old valve handles available on eBay, in various sizes, and are made of steel, brass or aluminum.

The piece of wood came from a local farm that has a side business as a saw mill. The guys who run it get a variety of wood logs and many of the cut boards have what I lovingly refer to as “character”. One of those boards that caught my eye the last time I was there is a piece of old oak that still has saw marks on one side. The board was fairly dark to begin with and a couple of coats of Tung oil just enhanced that weathered look.

Step 2: Assembly

The valve handles I have are very weathered and tarnished. They will polish up nicely with a wire brush and a lot of work but, for this project, I wanted to keep the old look. I did lightly brush the handle to get the surface grime off of it without removing the deeper level of tarnish. One of the handles still had some paint on it and that’s the one I used here.

In order to get the ball bearing into the valve handle I had to drill the appropriate size hole. I used a small drill press and drilled fairly slowly even though I was drilling through aluminum. Slow drilling is even more important if you are trying to drill brass or steel. After I drilled the hole I used some fine sandpaper to lightly rough up the outside surface of the ball bearing. A light coat of epoxy was used to bond the bearing to the hole in the valve handle.

I found a section of the oak board that had a saw mark pattern that I thought would enhance the circular look of the valve handle. After I cut the board section I did some light sanding of rough spots and rounded the edges a little. A couple of coats of Tung oil and then the board was ready for the valve handle assembly. I picked a spot on the board and then drilled a hole just slightly smaller in diameter than the #10 screw (5/32 or 11/64 should work).

The screw I used was a standard machine type (10-24 or 10-32) with a round head. I put the screw through the hole in the bearing and then threaded a matching hex nut on the bottom side. The hex nut makes sure that the screw doesn’t slip inside the bearing and also provides a slight standoff from the board surface. A second nut could be used if you need a bit more height to keep the valve handle from rubbing on the board. The length of the screw after putting on the nut should be a little less than the thickness of the board. If necessary, you can use a small bolt cutter or hacksaw to get the right length. No need to clean up the cut edge if you already have the nut installed. The last thing to do is to just screw the valve assembly into the hole you drilled in the board.

Step 3: Mounting the Board

I have young grandkids that got caught up in the fidget spinner craze so I figured they would get a kick out of this. I mounted it in our entryway at kid height and it gets attention each week when they come over for family dinner. They get pretty frisky with it so I used a screw at the top and one at the bottom and ran them into wall anchors to make it sturdy. Even when the kids get older and lose their interest in the spinner it will remain as a conversation piece for visitors. Best of all, it’s three less items in the landfill.

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